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A Conversation about the People's Social Forum with Corvin Russell

MegB
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Joined: Nov 28 2001

Former rabble blogger and lapsed babbler, Corvin Russell is joining us to discuss the groundswell of social protest in Canada and abroad @ 2pm EST.

Corvin, a long-time ally of indigenous struggles across Canada, will be talking about the transformative potential of #IdleNoMore and other similar struggles for Aboriginal rights, and their impact on broader social struggles. He can also answer any questions on the People's Social Forum which took place last weekend.

For some background, see Ethan Cox's column on PSF here.

Please join this important discussion and make your opinions known.


Comments

kropotkin1951
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Joined: Jun 6 2002

What First Nation does Corvin belong too?


lagatta
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Joined: Apr 17 2002

He need not belong to a First People to take part in Idle No More - Indigenous activists have made clear that they welcome (respectful) support of non-Indigenous people.

Looking forward to hearing from him - don't know whether I'll be in front of my computer then though.


kropotkin1951
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Joined: Jun 6 2002

I was just wondering because I don't know.  Of course he does not need to be a FN's person to be an ally.  You are right that just because Idle No More was a movement started by indigenous women doesn't mean that a male settler shouldn't be the go to guy for babble. 


Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

Here's a question from the other Common Causes thread by Dru Oja Jay about CC's decision-making structure:

I'm curious what kind of assembly structure they have. Also, which social movements are involved? There doesn't seem to be any info to this effect on the web site. Looks interesting though!

krop, Corvin is a long-time non-indigenous ally of indigenous struggles. As far as I understand it, he's not speaking for the #IdleNoMore movement, but rather about the transformative potential of INM and other indigenous rights struggles for broader social movements like the People's Social Forum. I'm sure Corvin will clarify once he arrives!


lagatta
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Joined: Apr 17 2002

I'd love to have such an online discussion with any of the four INM founders in Saskatchewan. I do know the two founders of Idle No More Québec, also young women. Mélissa Mollen Dupuis gave wonderful long interviews on the CBC and Radio-Canada radio morning shows.

Knowing Corvin, I highly doubt he will claim to be an INM spokesperson; just an informed supporter and observer.


kropotkin1951
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Joined: Jun 6 2002

Sorry but having Idle No More in the thread title and then no FN's person leading the discussion seems a bit incongruous.  Maybe the INM should not be the prominent feature in the title. I am sure that as a committed ally he will have very interesting and informative things to say.  Could I suggest that Social Forum About INM with Corvin would be more appropriate and less appropriating of the INM cachet. 

I too lagatta would love to hear from some of the women who have stepped forward and made INM the movement it has become.  Maybe we'll have some unexpected drop ins and that would be great.


Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

I think you're right, krop. I've edited the thread title and preamble to better reflect what Corvin will be speaking to today.


lagatta
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Joined: Apr 17 2002

Problem solved!

There are also First Nations rabble bloggers who write on Indigenous rights and issues whom we could call upon.


Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

I would like Corvin to comment on the Port Elgin proposal -- something like a summary of its more important bits, why it is necessary and its difference from something like the Common Causes initiative.


lagatta
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Joined: Apr 17 2002

I'd like to know how both these initiatives fit in with the ongoing Peoples' Social Forum process.

 


Corvin Russell
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Joined: Oct 20 2008

I'm here. Hi everyone!

I'll start with lagatta's question, but I'll post this first so people know I'm online.


Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

Thanks for joining us, Corvin! And welcome back to babble.


Unionist
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Joined: Dec 11 2005
Hi Corvin, thanks for doing this!

derrick
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Joined: May 8 2008

Hi Corvin - thanks for coming in to discuss this! 


lagatta
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Joined: Apr 17 2002

Bonjour Corvin, et un grand merci!


Corvin Russell
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Joined: Oct 20 2008

I think the relationship is still in flux, and is somewhat confusing because many of the main actors in each are involved in the others. I can only speak to my inherently partial perspective on the genesis of all the projects. 


Common Causes, as I understand it, came out of two streams. One, a civil society summit the Council of Canadians hosted in Ottawa in mid-September, which had been planned for a while. Two, an ad hoc group of labour and social left groups and individuals who began conversations initiated by Judy Rebick in the summer to figure out how to better coordinate the fight against Harper. There was little appetite for an immediate "mass action" like a mass demo in Ottawa, which was perceived as likely to be entirely ephemeral in its nature. Rather, people were interested in longer term organizing (on a 6 month to 2 year timeline, i.e. still with the Harper government as the primary focus). So it was decided that the Council's summit was the venue where the discussion would continue, and that the Council would serve as a kind of secretariat of the initiative. At some point, the CLC and CUPE also got behind it. 

The Port Elgin coalition proposal is also confusing. It arose as a proposal from the Quebec contingent at a large gathering of labour and social activists hosted by the CAW at Port Elgin in November. The CAW was also already participating in the Common Causes planning at that point, as was (and is) Alternatives, one of the Quebec groups behind the Port Elgin coalition and the Social Forum process. The proposal from Quebec was for an Indigenous-Canada-Quebec coalition that would perhaps be like the "red hand coalition" in Quebec (although structure was left open to decide on a regional/national basis). The key points about this proposal were that it proposed a triadic/plurinational framework; it proposed collective action as the organizing objective; and it proposed creating a capacity we do not have, i.e. the capacity to make a collective strategic choice, as opposed to the "network" model now prevailing on the left. The initial groups behind this proposal were ASSE, Defenders of the Land, Alternatives, and Powershift, with support from labour in Canada. This proposal is still being negotiated.

The social forum process has been led largely from Quebec, with Alternatives playing a secretariat role, with support from labour in Canada as well. It has the "triadic" relationship at its centre as well. The difference between this and the coalition idea is that social forums by their nature do not propose to be collective decision making or action strategy spaces, although there is talk of introducing an "assembly of movements" into the process to provide this capacity. Because of the lack of pressure for decision making, it is more comfortable for some institutions who are wary of formal coalitions across national divides.

Finally, there are other proposals coming out of the Port Elgin process being steered by the CAW itself. These have not been announced yet. 


Corvin Russell
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Joined: Oct 20 2008

Regarding Idle No More, I mainly want to speak as a non-Native ally and as someone with a bit of a history in Indigenous solidarity work. (BTW one of the four founders of INM is non-Native.) I guess my pitch to the left is much like this Canadian Dimension editorial: http://canadiandimension.com/articles/5150/

I'll make some sweeping generalizations for the sake of brevity. I think the left, by which I mean the traditional social democratic and Marxist left particularly, is on the whole not that good at analyzing the nature and potential of Indigenous struggles, particularly in Canada, where for historical, geographic, and legal reasons, they have a unique leverage and transformative potential. They also force us in fundamental ways to address our relationship to the land, the nature of the Canadian economy, and our own senses of history. Finally, many Indigenous communities still live partly in non-capitalist economies, and where they do not, have a recent memory of this. This is a tremendous resource for all of us, since most of us have to imagine what another world (economy) would look like. So, I agree with the CD editorial that in Canada this is not the struggle du jour but the struggle of our generation. (I'm on the CD collective, but didn't write the editorial.)

I was going to add a comment about my rethinking of the obviousness of the transformative historical subject in Marxist thought, but I think it would be a sideshow...

 


Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

Fantastic summary there, Corvin -- and very informative. What role/lessons is there from the Idle No More movement in these models of collective action? How do any of these projects (or you could speak to the ones you're more closely involved with) avoid the potential pitfall of co-opting or overshadowing the incredible indigenous resistance we're currently witnessing in Canada?

[cross-posted with Corvin's last post]


Unionist
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Joined: Dec 11 2005
1. People's Social Forum. 2. Common Causes 3. Port Elgin Proposal Is that it? Just trying to see what's what.

Corvin Russell
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Joined: Oct 20 2008

I should add that I have been associated to different degrees with the Port Elgin coalition proposal, the Port Elgin meeting itself, Common Causes (particularly the leadup discussions), and perhaps more peripherally, the Social Forum (whose organizing assembly I attended last weekend).


derrick
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Joined: May 8 2008

Corvin, from what Nora Loreto and others have written, the Social Forum weekend in Ottawa was impressive for the way it highlighted Indigenous voices like Russell Diabo and two of the founders of INM, among others. Is this an indication of how Idle No More has shifted the terrain? As a long time ally and solidarity activist, why is the Indigenous component of the Social Forum's "triadic" relationship so essential and what challenges do you see on that front?


epaulo13
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Joined: Dec 13 2009

greetings corvin

..was there any indication at the forum as to what is being done to support the struggles today? such as the pipelines, such as the 1st peoples that cannot wait till 2015.


Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

Corvin Russell wrote:
I was going to add a comment about my rethinking of the obviousness of the transformative historical subject in Marxist thought, but I think it would be a sideshow...

What's wrong with Marxist sideshows? There's a lot going on here, but if you catch this I was wondering if you know Glen Coulthard, a Dene poli-sci/FN scholar (and now rabble blogger) who talks quite a bit about this. He's now of Vancouver but lived in TO a few years ago.


derrick
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Joined: May 8 2008

Just catching up on the thread - my question is a bit redundant (sorry catchfire)... Corvin, thanks for the explanation and summary. I think it's important for those that were in Ottawa and up close to a lot of these discussions to remember that most progressives and/or activists in Canada are only just hearing about all this or have yet to hear about it -- let alone understand how they might plug in to the organizing. I'm interested in what you see in terms of potential for expanding the local organizing bases. In Vancouver, there is a Social Forum "expansion committee" that has held a couple of meetings already, and hopefully there'll be a more public report back from the Ottawa meetings as well. 


Unionist
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Joined: Dec 11 2005
Marxist slideshow. I'm in!

lagatta
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Joined: Apr 17 2002

Quoting Corvin:

 

I was going to add a comment about my rethinking of the obviousness of the transformative historical subject in Marxist thought, but I think it would be a sideshow...

Indeed, but it would be interesting to discuss this sometime later. As you know, there has been a lot of work on this in Marxist thought in Latin America. Well, from Mariátegui, and increasingly in recent years with the rise in Indigenous movements: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jos%C3%A9_Carlos_Mari%C3%A1tegui


Corvin Russell
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Joined: Oct 20 2008

Sorry for the double post - connection issues. 


Well, to be honest, again from my partial perspective and my own impressions, I think it was great that so many Indigenous participants were at the social forum, but this was assisted in part by the INM day of action - which Common Causes visibly and vocally supported), and part of it was that some people were there to discuss the Port Elgin coalition proposal, a discussion that got blended into the Social Forum for various reasons. 

I think the attempt to forge a triadic relationship gets past a key strategic impasse of the left in the pan-Canadian context.  The left is much more fragmented on national lines than the bourgeoisie and comprador classes (to use some old cant). So I think there are strategic reasons for it. But there are also moral reasons for it. I found it tremendously exciting that activists from significant groups in the Quebec social left were proposing a formal relationship to the Canadian social left and also insisting on the importance of centering Indigenous Peoples' movements and struggles in that framework.

Now, to temper that enthusiasm, I observe that too often people feel that gestures of solidarity without any real work of personal consciousness raising and study to remediate ignorance will be sufficient. Granted, I have had the privilege of working with some amazing Indigenous activists and teachers, but part of what has made this easier is that I have sedulously tried to address my profound ignorance on Indigenous Peoples' histories, issues, and struggles. This includes cultural manifestations of struggle. I wrote about this in my fawning response to Andrea Smith in Upping the Anti. Anyway, my point is, the work of relationship building doesn't happen over a weekend of mass gathering, it happens in smaller groups over time. Is there enough of THAT to make these efforts sustainable? I hope there will be a conscious effort to make that happen. Though I am amazed that more people in this moment are not thinking "I really need to read about 10 books to get a handle on this."


Corvin Russell
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Joined: Oct 20 2008

epaulo13, I think that for some there is definitely a level of frustration with the idea of waiting until 2014 and a fear of missing a window of opportunity when there are several mobilizations that could really be built on now, and which won't necessarily wait for a bureaucratic planning process to complete. but i don't think the ideas are mutually exclusive. 

catchfire, yes, i am familiar with glenn c's work and generally very appreciative. 

lagatta, i am very vaguely aware of those developments in Marxist thinking in Latin America, but I'm keen to know more - i will follow that link and any other references you have.


derrick
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Joined: May 8 2008

Corvin - I've been putting together a reading list in fact, in order to share on our Bound But Not Gagged blog. And, yes, it's a staggering educational task ahead of us. Would love to hear your top 10 recommended reading list.


Unionist
Online
Joined: Dec 11 2005
Book list please?

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